A Good Man in Africa

1994, R, 93 min. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Starring Colin Friels, Sean Connery, John Lithgow, Diana Rigg, Louis Gossett, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Sarah-Jane Fenton.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 16, 1994

The director of Driving Miss Daisy makes his second safari into Africa (the first was Mister Johnson) and comes back with a satire about Brits abroad that's about as clumsy as the post-colonials' attempts to deal fairly with the natives. Morgan (Friels) is a diplomat posted in the fictitious Kinjanja -- which he hates -- and making do by berating the Africans who work for him, bedding every woman he passes, and drinking himself blind. Complicating his so-called life are his sniveling boss (Lithgow), the big favorite in the local presidential election (Gossett), various women for whom he lusts or who lust after him, the corpse of a servant he is ordered to dispose of and can't, and a crusty but benevolent Scots doctor (Connery) who's set up to be the final repository of human goodness on the continent. The film seems to aim for a bitter, black comic take on self-serving civil servants and politicans, white and black, but never follows through on it. Instead, it wobbles along, relying heavily on coincidence to advance the plot and trying on different tones as if they were frocks: satire, slapstick, sex farce, adventure, drama of redemption, none of which ring true. And while the performances are generally fun -- especially Lithgow's big twit and Connery's curmudgeon -- the characters are not. Morgan comes off as a horny, self-absorbed reprobate, so boorish and so poor at learning from his mistakes that you applaud all the afflictions and mishaps that rain on him. He does finally sees the light, but if you have trouble buying into Scrooge's redemption, I don't expect you'll find Morgan's change of heart to be terribly convincing. There is, it turns out, little about the film that's convincing: Fenton's young maid, initally resistent to Morgan's sexual advances, suddenly getting all hot and bothered for him; cool, cynical Rigg' matron going all twitchy at the sight of Morgan's little fireman; Morgan off-handedly dragging about the body of a lightning-fried maid… etc., etc. All of it plays a bit phony. Perhaps something was lost in the transition from book to film. The movie was adapted by novelist William Boyd himself, but it feels like it's missing something, maybe a narrative voice that gave all the coincidence and silliness some sense. I don't know what all's up with A Good Man in Africa, only that good isn't really the word for it.

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A Good Man in Africa, Bruce Beresford, Colin Friels, Sean Connery, John Lithgow, Diana Rigg, Louis Gossett, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Sarah-Jane Fenton

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